Nehawu’s PPE application dismissed with costs

The labour court has dismissed Nehawu's PPE case with costs.
The labour court has dismissed Nehawu’s PPE case with costs. Image: Jozef Polc/
Labour court judge Benita Witcher, in a scathing judgment against Nehawu in a case over protective gear for health workers, says the public sector union could not point to a legal norm that was breached.

“In the main, the applicant claims that the minister has failed to ensure that health workers are provided with PPE (personal protective equipment), has failed to issue guidelines for the use of PPE and has failed to meaningfully engage the applicant about these issues.”

She acknowledged that all health workers in the front line of the fight against Covid-19 are entitled to PPE so that they are not exposed to avoidable risks.

However, Witcher in her ruling found that though there is a national shortage of PPE, the specific hospitals identified by Nehawu either have no shortage at all, and if they do, it is not of the type that would warrant the application because it can be resolved by making the relevant enquiry and administratively by simply placing additional orders, or shifting resources from hospitals that have more stock.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) had gone urgently to the labour court, saying the health and lives of health care workers were at risk because they were not being provided with personal protective equipment for dealing with Covid-19.

In an affidavit, the union’s secretary-general, Zola Saphetha, listed hospitals and clinics around the country at which he said there were shortages of protective gear.

But Witcher said the minister of health and health MECs had demonstrated that SA’s strategy is to prevent the spread of the pandemic and instituted a range of measures to deal with shortages of PPE, issued guidelines on the use of PPE and taken steps to meaningfully engage trade unions, including Nehawu, on measures to mitigate the impact  of the virus.

Witcher found in favour of the government and dismissed the case with costs.

“In this way, those who elect to pursue obviously untenable legal points, use the court process as part of other powerplays, unnecessarily consume the resources of their opponents or make allegations they cannot substantiate, know that they run the risk of a cost order thereby should they lose.”


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